the silent language of the star

Author: Minervacat
Fandom: Stargate: SG-1
Pairing: Ensemble gen, OFC POV
Rating: R
Spoilers: For the whole series through early Season 9.
Summary: Four stories about the SGC librarian. Companion to Look To The Heavens And Number The Stars. 4000 words.

ice is the silent language of the peak
and fire the silent language of the star

let us be modest, then, of I and you

Claire doesn't deal much with the alien tech -- she gets books, papers, and artifacts, but all the technology ends up in someone's lab, for taking apart, putting back together, reverse engineering. Sometimes the bits that are broken come to Claire, for cataloging and storage, but mostly anything that could be called technology stays out of her hands, and that's just fine, in her opinion.

Frankly, most of the stuff scares her -- O'Neill brought her a busted zat once, to keep for their records, and even though he showed her that it wouldn't ever go off, she still worried that one day she was going to look at it the wrong way and it was going to turn her into dust. Claire hid the zat in a drawer by itself and slapped a lock on the drawer when she was done, and she hasn't looked at it since.

The gossip gets to her about the Tok'ra visitors via a Marine who's usually stationed down the hall from the library, first, and Janet Fraiser, second -- the Marine comes to tell her that O'Neill had knocked Teal'c out cold in the boxing ring and glosses over the Tok'ra strength devices part of it, and Janet comes in to use Claire's subscription go through PubMed for information on narcotics that might not show up in bloodwork.

Janet gives Claire the medical run-down, stares crankily at PubMed, and says, "You know, they don't tell you about this stuff in medical school. Or in medical databases that have no information whatsoever about alien infections."

"I say that all the time," Claire says. She hasn't seen O'Neill or Jackson or Carter since before the klaxons went off that morning, and she's been banging her head against a list of questions Jackson gave her -- about farming and weaponry in 12th century France -- for two days. It seems like something interesting, watching SG-1 with super strength, and she's sorry she hasn't seen it yet. She's always the last to hear the gossip, always the only one who doesn't see SG-6 come home naked and covered in ceremonial war paint.

She doesn't feel sorry for herself -- she picked her station at the SGC, and she's almost always happy that people only shoot at her on rare occasions -- but sometimes it's too quiet in the library.

"That should be the motto of the SGC," Janet says. "They don't tell you about this stuff in school. Sam's rewriting the laws of physics and nobody in the real world knows it, because they don't tell you about aliens and technology that rewrites body chemistry and Tok'ra in school." She leans back in her chair and drums her fingernails on the keyboard before she says, "I'm getting nowhere. I'd ask you to keep looking, but I don't know what to tell you to look for."

"It's okay," Claire says. "I'm sorry."

"Me too," Janet says.

She comes back hours later and sinks into a chair opposite Claire. Janet says, "Goddamned Tok'ra."

Claire wonders if the Tok'ra have a librarian; she's never met any of the SGC's allies, because the library isn't high on the list of tour spots for a lot of reasons -- for one, she thinks there are resources here that they're still keeping secret, for whatever reason. And for another, sometimes Claire feels like, compared to the libraries that some of the other planets they visit must have, her shelves of books and fiddly bits of pottery don't look like much.

She doesn't mind, really -- she's scared of the Tok'ra, too, but she's curious, at the same time.

"Still nothing?"

"You hear the gate engage?" Janet says. "That was the Colonel and Dr. Jackson and Sam heading off-world on their own version of vigilante justice. Or possibly vigilante librarianship, it might just be a fact-finding mission. Since they didn't bother to tell us what they were doing."

"Can I help with anything?" Claire says. In the hours since Janet was there the first time, Claire's had three Marines and one botanist come through to pass along gossip, and she's answered two of Jackson's 17 questions about France. If Claire's being perfectly honest with herself, today is one of the few days in the SGC where she's bored -- and even as the gossip got scarier, as SG-1 got scarier, a tiny part of her brain kept saying, but it's better than what you're doing.

"No," Janet says, rubbing her forehead. "I just wanted to see a friendly face that wasn't Tok'ra, or glaring at me like the General is."

"So you don't know -- what's going to happen?"

"No," Janet says. "We know what's going to happen. SG-1 are going to end up in hot water, as usual, is what's going to happen." She pauses. "Actually, since Teal'c's gone through the gate after them, they're probably already in hot water."

Claire's still not used to people she knows, people she likes, walking into danger every day. "Oh," she says. Janet's quiet for a long time, so Claire is, too, but finally she has to break the silence. "You want to help me look up the history of weaponry on 12th century French farms?"

Janet laughs, and it makes Claire smile. It's been a lonely week in the library, between most of the off-world teams being, well, off-world, and the stuff with SG-1 that got her gossip but very little companionship, and she's flattered that Janet thought of her as a friendly face. It's still new, this job, and it's still strange. Some days she misses Macalaster.

Most days, she doesn't miss it at all.

"Not really," Janet says. "So much of this job is just feeling helpless."

"Yes," Claire says, because that's a statement she understands. A statement that she feels.

"I didn't do anything wrong, with those armbands," Janet says. "But I missed something, at the beginning, and, well -- " She trails off, looks over at Claire, shrugs.

"One of the Marines told me that SG-1's like a cat," Claire says. "They always land on their feet."

"So far," says Janet. She stands up and says, "Thanks for listening to me bitch."

"Any time," Claire says, and she's drowned out by the off-world activation klaxons sounding.

"That'll be the cats," Janet says, winking.

Claire finishes answering Jackson's questions. She drinks a glass of wine by herself at home. She wishes, falling asleep alone, for something more exciting than this life, but she can't imagine what that life would be.

only the wind gives voice to ice or flame

The first thing that she does in the morning is spill coffee on her white shirt when she brakes hard at a red light, so by the time she gets to the Mountain, she's late from having gone home to change her clothes, and she can still smell coffee on her skin. The morning's really the afternoon, because she got distracted by a project for Jackson and didn't leave the Mountain until 5 a.m., after sticking a note on the door of the library that she'd be in by lunchtime, and to leave a note if anyone took anything.

She's finally comfortable enough to not work normal hours; a couple of years there, and it's clear that almost no one keeps normal hours, and if Jackson comes back through the gate with a research project and an internal clock set to third shift, it's easier just to shift her own clock and keep his hours than it is to work together via email and phone messages.

So far, no one's stolen anything and Claire's discovered that Colorado Springs at 4 a.m. is actually pretty nice, quiet and cool and peaceful.

When she passes through the guards, the Marine who checks her ID is distracted, watching his partner talking quietly into a radio over his shoulder while he waves Claire through. When she stops in the commissary for more coffee -- at least there's no chance of stains showing on her fresh dark brown shirt -- there's a buzz of energy passing around the whole place, a feeling that Claire recognizes as something important, something interesting or dangerous or deadly happening somewhere in the base or off-world. She can't catch any snippets of conversation, just a feeling, and she shrugs it off when she trips her way down to the library.

There's a note from Jackson, saying he's taken a Russian dictionary, and one from another of his anthropologists whose name Claire can never remember and whose chicken scratch handwriting doesn't reveal his name but at least lets her identify the fact that the anthropologist whose name she doesn't know dropped off a load of artifacts that SG-6 brought back from PT2 and picked up some things that SG-3 brought back from PZ9 and Claire had finished cataloging two days ago.

She finishes the work that she's been doing for Daniel, emailing him a list of citations for articles about language pollination written in the last three months, and churning through a ream of paper printing them all off; she'll drop them in his office on her way out if he doesn't stop by. It's nearly dinnertime when she finishes that, and she's been alone in the library the whole time, which is a little strange but not totally unheard of; most of the teams are off-world and not expected back for at least a couple of days, but she was sure that SG-1 was due back today and she hasn't seen any of them yet, not even passing in the hallways.

Claire's hungry, though, and she remembers that she hasn't eaten anything at all today, because coffee doesn't count as food, so the fact that she hasn't seen Jackson or Carter or Teal'c or O'Neill today passes right out of her head.

The commissary is totally empty when she goes in, but who in the whole SGC eats on a normal schedule? No one. She takes a sandwich back to the library and tries not to scatter crumbs on the pile of stuff from PT2. She has a curt but appreciative email from Jackson on the subject of the articles she pulled for him, so SG-1's back, and Claire thinks about wandering down to Jackson's office and seeing how the trip off-world was. She gets distracted, though, because the sandwich makes her sleepy and she ends up starting a fresh pot of coffee on the coffeemaker in the corner instead of leaving the library. While it's brewing, she finds a couple of fascinating pieces of alien-looking jewelry in the pile from PT2. In the end, she drinks the coffee andgets some cataloging done and when the corridors are starting to quiet down at 8 p.m., she calls it a totally boring day and heads home.

She leaves the article print-outs on the counter by her work station, and completely forgets to swing by Jackson's office.

Claire picks up dinner from the Chinese place closest to her house, falls asleep in from of CNN on the couch, and drags herself to her bed at 2 in the morning. Dreaming about klaxons and fires and death isn't a new thing, not since she took this job, but it's never a restful thing, and when she wakes up at 9:17, she feels like she's run a marathon in her sleep.

She finishes the cataloging and sends an email to the nameless anthropologist that if he wants or needs them back, he can come get them. She does nearly two months' worth of filing and has to spend three hours shifting the shelves that are full of bowls from off-world around because she's run out of room. She only ran out of room the last time she did the filing; before that, there was still space, but now, nothing.

She leaves a heap of bowls balanced on one counter with a big sign that says DO NOT KNOCK THESE OVER, THIS MEANS YOU, MARINES.

She eats a sandwich. She makes cranky faces at her to-do list. She plays computer solitaire on her computer.

She's in the middle of losing a fifth straight game of free cell when something in the direction of the gate room starts to rumble and then explodes.

She hears the details when it's over, never spends a moment of worry of Teal'c because she didn't know, never meets the Dr. Rodney McKay that Carter and Jackson complain crankily over in the commissary, and can't remember a single thing she did during those 48 hours.

humbly becomes the great, and great we are

One of the early lessons Claire learned at the SGC was that you've got to have a great sense of self to survive there -- because you could, without notice, end up in someone else's body, or with someone else's consciousness trapped inside your own body, and how else could you tell anyone apart, if looks lie? Personality's the only way.

But Claire's also learned that personalities can be ripped way, stolen by Goa'uld, and she's learned that no one ever really dies -- they only disappear, they only bide their time, and when things are settling down, they come back and rip your heart out, all over again.

O'Neill told her that this job involved a lot of finicky cataloging, and Jackson told her it involved a lot of surprises -- but no one ever told her about the life lessons, or the way they broke your heart over and over and over again.

No one told her that sometimes things got lost and stayed lost. No one told her that things slipped out of your grasp, out of your life.

No one told her that sometimes the things you lost were people.

Carter's humming when she comes into the library -- O'Neill was in before Carter, and he told Claire, Carter's humming, she won't tell me anything, get the gossip; Claire said, Do I look like I do your dirty work for you, sir?, and O'Neill snorted and looked down at Claire, who had dust smeared across her shirt and hair in her face, somebody's dirty work, for sure; Only my own, she snaps back -- and Claire has to smile, because she can't remember the last time Carter walked into the library (or passed Claire in the commissary, or came back through the gate) and looked so happy.

It's not that Claire keeps track of anyone's emotions, but it's written naked on Carter's face, the fact that she's happy, and Carter is, in fact, humming.

Claire teases her about for a couple of minutes, takes the research questions Carter wants answered and USB drive with the transcription Claire needs to put in the database, and teases Carter as she's leaving, too.

Claire's humming herself by the time Carter leaves, which just goes to show you that you shouldn't ever take anything for granted.

She hasn't seen Jackson in a couple of days -- not unusual, but unlikely -- when he stumbles in and practically falls onto the stool in front of the catalog database. He looks like the walking dead, circles under his eyes and face twisted up behind his glasses in an expression that's almost a parody of concentration. "Agggh," he says, typing frantically and setting a query running, before he turns and says, "Hi, Claire."

"Hi," Claire says, and she had to fight down amusement (something else she'll regret, later; she's left the planet exactly once and she doesn't have a boyfriend or much of a family or much of a life, but when she's got a closet of regrets, of things unsaid and things taken lightly) at how exactly he looks the part of the flustered, flaky academic.

It's what Jackson is, really, but she forgets, behind the fatigues and the sidearm he sometimes wears into her library before he goes off-world. When he first came back, he told her, sadly, "I've forgotten more than a lot of people will ever know." It broke Claire's heart, then, and if she thinks about it too long, it still makes her queasy and scared.

But she forgets things, too.

She says, "What are you looking for?"

"I don't know," Jackson says. "I'll know it when I find it, I think, but I don't know if it's something I've forgotten or something I never knew. It's -- complicated."

The computer bleats at Jackson and he swivels back around in his chair to look at what it's told him. "Big fat nothing I didn't already know," he mumbles. "Well, it was worth a shot. Thanks."

"Let me know if I can do anything to help," Claire says.

"Thanks," Jackson says, swinging off the stool and heading for the door. "But it's hard to find things when you don't know what's lost."

He sounds sad when he says it, and Claire thinks that it's not just an answer to a question that he's lost, but she doesn't know how to ask, and for once, no one comes and tells her the answer.

and having learned to be, may learn to mean

Jackson absent-mindedly wanders off with Claire's books; Vala Mal Doran steals them, outright. She and Jackson are still hooked together with some kind of Ancient jewelry gizmo, and because Jackson is spending half his time in the library trying to figure out how to break their bonds, Vala's there, too. Claire doesn't know what to make of her; after nearly 7 years, she thought she'd seen everything but she's never seen anything like Vala.

Gossip's gossip and the Mountain's what it is, so Claire knows that the first time Jackson met Vala, Vala beat the crap out of him and tried to steal the Prometheus -- not only had the story gone around, but all the footage that the ship's cameras had captured made the rounds, but to Jackson's irritation and General O'Neill's amusement.

Claire heard that Jackson collapsed that morning; Vala had left through the gate and then they'd both ended up in the infirmary. Jackson's pale underneath his tan, and he looks tired while he pages through the book in front of him. Claire tries not to stare -- because after almost seven years, she worries, and she counts him as a friend, and she was briefly, selfishly glad that Vala's bracelets had kept Jackson from leaving for Atlantis -- and so she watches Vala instead.

Since Jackson missed the Daedalus, he's looked more tired, more exhausted by the whole boring business of living, as O'Neill once put it ("Daniel's got better things to do with his brain than remember to feed himself or do the laundry," O'Neill once told Claire, sotto voce, and Jackson had rolled his eyes fondly and snorted), than he did before. Before Mitchell, before Vala and the bracelets, Claire had come to the realization that breaking up SG-1 was the best thing they could do for the team, that the time had come for them to do other things in other places.

Jackson just looks tired by the fact that he's had to stay here, and Claire's wondered, off and on, if the shine of stepping through the gate hasn't worn off for him. Everyone who's stayed at the SGC more than a year or two adjusts -- Claire's adjusted, and the unexpected hardly fazes her anymore -- and the things that would make any civilian stop and stare are just another day's work for the people at the SGC.

Jackson's already thrown Mitchell out of the library for being useless, and Vala's wandering around the edges of the room, idly poking at the artifacts and books Claire's wedged into shelves that ran out of space years ago. O'Neill promised -- and Landry agreed, when he took over -- that she could have more space, but the unexpected keeps happening and Claire never quite manages to get anything packed, or a new space evaluated, or anything.

Vala makes Claire nervous -- there's something predatory and alien behind Vala's eyes, even when she's putting on an innocent expression. Plus she steals books, which makes Claire's inner librarian furious, even as Claire's outer librarian is working in a place like nowhere else in the world, completely dismissive of all but the basic skills she learned in library school.

Vala plucks something that might be a memory extractor (they're not sure, and no one's willing to test it, for good reason) from the shelf and says, "What's this?" at the same time Jackson says, without picking his head up from the book he's bent over, "Put that down, Vala." Any time she's in the library with him, he's riding herd on her behavior, and it snaps into Claire's head that Vala's a large part of why Jackson looks so tired -- because Vala would wear anyone out, and she'd be especially wearing to Jackson, since she's the reason Jackson's still in Colorado, not the Pegasus Galaxy.

"I wasn't doing anything," Vala whines, and Claire feels a brief flare of jealously shoot through her chest, because even pouting, even as Vala's been made the obvious villain of this piece, she's still beautiful in a strange way, and Vala knows she is.

"The last time you weren't doing anything, I ended up shackled to you, and the time before that, I ended up in someone else's body, and you were almost burned alive," Jackson says mildly, and flips a page. He looks up, and Claire's suddenly aware that she's staring at him. "Find anything?"

"Nope," Claire says. In the years since Jackson descended, they've gotten in the habit of working together, at the same lab table, passing books and search queries and objects back and forth, and Jackson's a better cataloger than half the people who were at Macalaster when Claire left. That fact reinforces things that she learned in school -- the better you know your subject, the better you can catalog it, and no one understands the Ancient texts better than Jackson.

Another reason she was selfishly glad that he stayed: she wasn't sure what she was going to do without Jackson to answer her tough questions. She tried not to remember that she'd already survived a year without him.

"Me neither," he says, snapping Claire out of her own head. They're usually at the same table, but Jackson had pulled so many books out, so many fiddly pieces of Ancient tech in the hopes that they'd disable the effects of the bracelets, that they'd had to spread out. "Christ," Jackson says, rubbing at his forehead. The bracelet glints on his wrist, and he has lines at the corners of his eyes that Claire has never noticed before. "There's got to be something, somewhere."

"I got nothing," Claire says.

Jackson sighs, slams the book shut, and claps a hand on Claire's shoulder briefly, as he's squeezing past her to take Vala's wrist in a very firm grip. "Another day, another problem books can't solve," he says to Claire, off-hand and casual, and smiles at her. "Guess we'll go see Dr. Lee and see if science can solve it."

"Blasphemy, there's always answers in books," Claire says. "Another day, another thing they didn't teach me in library school."

It's a rote recitation, one they've tossed back and forth a hundred times, every time Claire slammed a book shut or slammed her palms down flat on a table, frustrated at the lack of answers. The first time Jackson said it after he came back from being Ascended, Claire was so happy she thought her heart would burst right out of her chest.

Jackson laughs, now, when Claire says it, and Vala looks interested but like she's clearly missed the joke. He looks younger when he laughs, and Claire smiles at him as he's towing Vala out the door.

Gossip's gossip and the Mountain's what it's always been, and later Claire hears that Jackson and Mitchell and Vala had spent a day and a half on a wild goose chase through the galaxy, following a trail that Vala's thefts and sales and havoc wreaked. The next time Claire sees Jackson, he's still pale but he's arguing with Mitchell so she knows he's okay. When Claire passes them in the hallway, Jackson catches Claire's eye and winks, and she goes back to her library, and her books without answers, and what passes for the status quo, at the SGC.


author's notes: for my otp on her birthday; babycakes, i know i said i'd write you five stories, but i just couldn't make the fifth work no matter how hard i tried. i hope you still love me anyway. title, epigraph and section breaks from conrad aiken, sonnet x, from and in the human heart. the episodes these sections are set during are, in order, "upgrades", "48 hours", "chimera" and "the ties that bind", in case you were curious.

feedback always welcome.

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